Defining Terms

By: Lucas Lang

The overarching theme that I gathered from this week’s documents is that historians need to be careful of the ways in which they use and promote terminology and comparisons to the past. Victoria De Grazia’s essay on the use of the word fascism was interesting in that it seeks to define nationalism and its roots before arguing that the focus should not be on identifying or labeling fascists. Instead, the emphasis ought to be on the identification of the reasons why fascism came to be. Similarly, Cas Mudde’s article is also an examination of the roots and meaning of a term, though instead it examines populism. The two articles are distinct as one addresses concerns use of the term from the past while the other uses a term which is currently occurring. Both authors want the focus to be on what the proper reaction should be to their respective terminologies. Samuel Moyne and Peter Gordon’s articles examine the issue of comparing modern events to the past. While both authors acknowledge a use for comparison, Moyne wants historians to be more cautious in their use of contrast, while Gordon is more open to its usage. Both authors raise valid points. What after all is the point of knowing history knowledge of it is never used to understand modern events? Is not its purpose to learn lessons and mistakes of the past and prevent their re-occurrence in the present? On the other hand, it is important to acknowledge that the present is not the past and events are unlikely to occur exactly as they did in the past and fearing such can lead people to take harmful and dangerous action.

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